Jordan Todorov is a film critic, journalist and documentary film director. The occasion for this interview is his film Dad Made Dirty Movies, which introduces us to Stephen Apostolof, the most successful Bulgarian in Hollywood you've probably never heard of. Stephen was a former political prisoner, playboy, director of B-rated erotic films, father of five children and one of the founders of the first Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. He worked alongside the legendary Ed Wood, whose name became famous with the eponymous movie by Tim Burton starring Johnny Depp. The two worked together on Orgy of the Dead– the first erotic horror musical in the world and an undisputed apex of cinematic bad taste.
You have worked as a freelance editor and journalist for various outlet. What inspired you to seek out extraordinary human stories?
People are curious about the stories of their peers. I guess I'm no exception.
Jordan Todorov, photo: Elena Geroska
What are the most interesting stories you have told?
I couldn't give you a ranking because each of the stories I've told is unique. However, after many years of storytelling, I realized that life remains the best storyteller of all.
Can you briefly tell us who Stephen Apostolof was?
Stephen Apostolof (1928-2005) was a former political prisoner, playboy, director of B-rated erotic films, father of five children and one of the founders of the first Bulgarian Orthodox Church in Los Angeles. But above all, Apostolof is the most successful Bulgarian in Hollywood that you've never heard of. After a successful breakthrough in Hollywood in 1957, Apostolof became one of the fathers of the sexploitation genre in the 1960s and 1970s – low-budget erotic movies that used sex to lure viewers into the theaters. Apostolof worked alongside the legendary Ed Wood, whose name became famous with Tim Burton's film by the same name starring Johnny Depp. The two made Orgy of the Dead together – the first erotic horror musical in the world and an undisputed apex of bad taste in cinema. Subsequently, Apostolof and Wood made many more films together and became one of the most iconic duos in Hollywood.
poster credit: AGITPROP & Stephen C. Apostolof Estate
How did you learn about him?
Boris Baikov, a friend of mine who's a film afficionado, one day sent me a mysterious one-sentence email: "Look up who directed Ed Wood's erotic scripts." I checked and was amazed. To this day it is a mystery to me how Apostolof had managed to remain completely unknown in his own country in the Internet age. One of the reasons for this could be that, given the nature of the films he made, he always used a pseudonym when working.
When did you realize that Stephen Apostolof would become your protagonist?
I knew right from the beginning. His life is an archetypal story of a Hollywood rise and fall, it's like it was written by Hollywood.
While doing research for this film, did you find out more about Stephen Apostolof's life in Burgas?
I learned a lot about his early years in Burgas. I talked to some of his childhood friends, with whom he got up to the usual schoolboy shenanigans. In the 1930s, Apostolof studied at the prestigious Deutsche Schule. After the communists came to power in 1944, he was part of an illegal organization plotting to overthrow the regime. The conspiracy was uncovered by inside man working for the police and Apostolof was convicted along with several others. He spent a year and a half in prison and shortly after his release he escaped from Bulgaria in the hold of a Finnish cargo ship. This happened on March 3, 1948.
Where are the characters from Dad Made Dirty Movies today?
Apostolof's third wife lives in a caravan somewhere in the Arizona wilderness. Harvey Shain, one of Apostolof's closest friends and actor in all his films, is now retired and lives in Van Nuys, California. The Bulgarian actress Nadejda Dobrev, who was in the cult classic Orgy of the Dead, still goes to casting calls in Hollywood and gets small parts in various independent productions. Ed Wood's biographer Rudolph Gray, on whose book the Johnny Depp film is based, is working on a big retrospective of Wood's work, which will take place at the prestigious Anthology Film Archives in New York in May. Ted V. Mikels, the assistant cameraman in Orgy of the Dead, is now 84 and recently began filming his latest film, Paranormal Extremes: Text Messages from the Dead. Apostolof's five children are scattered all over the country, but none of them work in the film industry. Christopher, the youngest son of Apostolof, recently started working for the Canadian Railways, which is quite ironic because his father worked in the same place in the early 1950s, when he briefly lived in Canada.
How has B-movie culture evolved from the 60s to the present day?
Hmmm ... This is a very broad question, which cannot answer in a few sentences. However, I can say that the fans of low-budget B-movies are a very active community, which ensures that the genre will continue to live on.
What excites you the most about the past and inspires you to be its narrator?
I wouldn't say that I think of myself as a "narrator of the past." It's just that some of the stories that excite me happened back then, and if they get told, it's less likely that they'll be forgotten.